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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

KA Hospitality Logo

KISHOR BAJAJ, Chairman and Managing Director

“KA Hospitality, is the food and beverage arm (Roti business) of the Badasaab group. The other businesses of the Badasaab group comprise of premium clothing (Kapda business) and construction of luxury service apartments (Makaan business).

KA Hospitality is the first Indian Company to bring Michelin starred restaurants to India, in a free standing format.

Meeting Ajay was a divine intervention, specifically at the time when KA needed to grow from being managed by the founder to being professionally managed. It required a professional management to manage the scale at which we wished to grow and to take organizational decisions and execute KA’s strategy accordingly.

Ajay began with interviewing thirteen people across the organization. The remarkable thing about these interviews was that he could gain their trust in a manner that they shared freely about the organization and the management. On listening to what these thirteen employees had to say, (in their own words, as Ajay had noted their views verbatim) I saw KA Hospitality and my own role in it, in a new light. I realized the changes I needed to make as the owner, founder and Chairman & Managing Director of KA Hospitality.

This resulted in key strategic decisions to move the organization towards a professional management by giving charge to an able and qualified CEO and restructuring of the organization. This brought in a surge of ownership and initiative among the management and employees in the organization.

Thereafter, KA Hospitality engaged Ajay for Leadership Development and a long term Organization Development initiative.

During the first phase of organization development from December 2012 to September 2013, lasting over 10 months, Ajay has been able to facilitate the following results for KA Hospitality.

1. Removing blind spots in leaders of KA, by creating the ecology of firm belief in the process of reflection and deep thinking.

2. Building an organization culture of ‘trust and empowerment’. This led to shift of our management style from being finance and control driven to operations and sales driven.

3. Transition of company’s communication style to ‘Adult to Adult’ applying the fundamentals of Transaction Analysis.

4.  Adherence to hierarchy protocol, respect for each person’s role, bringing role clarity and last but not the least – the necessity to give authority before seeking accountability.

5. Explaining the larger context of our organizational challenge of shifting from Entrepreneurial Management to Professional Management and the rigour and discipline required for this transition

6. Presenting the Organization Life Cycle concept and relating it to KA Hospitality’s current organizational growth stage and the need for transitioning to the next stage of organizational growth.

7.  Bringing to awareness management styles of senior leaders of KA Hospitality, and also demonstrating the importance of vital vitamins of the four management functions “P A E I” – Productivity, Administrating, Entrepreneuring and Integration.

8. Shifting the management focus from short term effectiveness and efficiency to long term effectiveness and efficiency, by initiating a process of monthly “E” Meetings among the management team.

9.  Review of financial statements and business plans to assess their impact on organizational growth and strategy. Facilitating a dialogue between the founder and the professional management for common understanding and better synergy on funding and expansion strategy.

Ajay has been actively involved in all aspects of the organizational change process, be it:

– Strategic decision making

– Organizational structuring

– Interviewing candidates for key management positions

– Initiating the setting up of systems and processes

– Leadership Development

– Team Building

– Cultivating a culture of trust and respect.

Ajay’s work is highly personalised to each organization’s context, holistic in its vision, evolves and adds value as it moves forward. It may seem unclear what one can expect at the start of the change process. However, having experienced Ajay closely as an organization change catalyst, in the past 10 months, I see clear value in his work approach.

Consulting provided by Ajay is organic in nature and hence cannot be sold or marketed and therefore it may be difficult to comprehend for anyone who has not experienced it.

The value that Ajay’s consulting provides to the organization and its leaders is immense. He is independent in his expression, neutral in his stance and is willing to take risk, by communicating “difficult realities” to people in power, for the sake of a greater common good.

 I feel fortunate to experience his work as organizational change consultant, in the past 10 months of building KA Hospitality. I look forward to taking this organization development initiative forward to further strengthen KA Hospitality.

Ajay’s contribution to KA has laid the foundation for scaling our operations for further expansion. It is difficult to capture in words his role in transitioning KA Hospitality towards professional management. I have highlighted the most significant contributions of Ajay in helping me and our leadership team in building KA Hospitality.

I strongly recommend Ajay, for his expertise in Organization Development Consulting services, to all organizations, particularly to family / founder owned organizations, which are looking to transition from being founder driven to being professionally managed.

Ajay is an organization change catalyst par excellence!”

***

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Intuitive Writing Workshop

allowing the hidden to surface

Intuitive Writing is a one day workshop that will create a comfortable space for participants to allow expression from deepest (and hidden) pockets of their being. Using a variety of relaxation exercises and mediums of expressions it will facilitate participants to recognize their body wisdom and get in touch with their unexpressed feelings.

Intuitive Writing creates the possibility to:

* Create self-awareness

* Bring forth creativity

* Heal emotional wounds

* Relate authentically

* Play, share and laugh

Logistics

Dates: November 11, 2012

Time: 9.00 am to 6.00 pm

Venue: Flat No. 11, Rewa Apartments, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai – 400 026

Cost: Rs. 1,000/- per participant including light refreshments and lunch

For Registration: Write to chandrang@gmail.com or call Chandran on 9820345931

Testimonials

“This was a very fruitful experience that has taught me the ability to focus and relax while writing. It was a great session and would like to partake in more to come!”

–  Rujuta Kothari

“Introspective experience! Also a very different take on creative writing  – more about looking inwards than outwards. Overall very enjoyable!”

– Zainab Kakal

“The workshop was wonderful! Beautiful setting and perfect environment to relax, let go, let thoughts flow without any structures or barriers. The loosening exercises babbling etc. really helped to let the thoughts flow and creative ideas come up. Overall good fun!”

–  Aishwarya Mehra

“Thank you Ajay for a rewarding day. As a facilitator you have patient, supportive and allowed each and every one of us a sacred yet fun space. I have learnt the importance of play, body work and deep relaxation to create focus in writing. Loved the workshop!”

–  Desiree’ Punwani

“Ajay helped me get in touch with my inner child, the creative, intuitive side of me that I had often ignored. He creates a space that is open and vibrant. Through a judicious mix of sharing, reflection, bodywork and art I learned to delve deeper into myself and rediscover my true passion.”

–  Faraaz Tanveer

Facilitator

Ajay Kalra

“I believe my greatest qualification is that I love what I do (or one could say I do what I love). Having qualified as a chartered accountant, it was a long and challenging journey to find my calling to facilitate meaningful relationships among people. I have the requisite qualifications of a certified coach and organizational development consultant, yet how I facilitate is not something I acquired through training. It is an organic process of using my naturalness as an instrument to facilitate awareness. I feel most alive when I facilitate.”

Ajay’s Profile  & Journey

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Tuck!

That was what we called the edible items we got from home to boarding school. I do not know how that word came about. What I do know is that it was a word that made my mouth water as a child.

There were all kinds of tuck.

The Sardars from Punjab got basan ke ladoo, panjiri and dodha. All Indian sweets from the North of India. Made in desi ghee, clarified butter, a symbol of good health in rural (and urban) India. The city dwellers got diary milk chocolates, bourbon biscuits and sometimes cans of rasgullas. However the most treasured tuck was that of the students who came from Thailand. Their tuck was exotic. Perhaps it was not exotic, it was foreign. At a time when India functioned under the License Raj and globalization was unheard of, anything “imported” had an exotic look and smell to it.

The Thai students were mostly Sardars, even though most had Thai names. Monto, Narin,Suvit. They all spoke fluent Thai and I never heard them speak in Punjabi.  It never occurred to me to check how they were both Thai and Sardars. Perhaps their parents had settled in Thailand for business. Or maybe there was another story to their Thai-Sardar ethnicity. Anyway for me, as a nine a year old, it did not matter. I was more interested in the contents of their tuck bags.

In the evenings we used to have tuck time, where in students could open their bags and tuck into their tucks. The most premium tuck belonged to a plump student called Akash Gujral. He was from Kuwait. The quantity of tuck he got could easily fill a small general store for a few months. Huge brown leather suitcases filled with Kraft cheese, orange marmelade, chocolate powder, strawberry candy, Kit Kat bars, Coca Cola cans, choco sticks, nestle ketchup, peanut butter… You name it he had it! It was a treasure trove. Every child dreamed of being of Akash Gujaral when he opened his bag in the evening. If not Akash, atleast his friend. Sometimes Akash was kind enough to share some of his treasure with a few of us and I once saw him pass on a Kraft cheese can to Sister Vimla, one of the nuns in charge of our dormitory. I can still see her beaming smile, stretching from one end of her face to the other. I remember wondering if it was within school (or religious) regulations to gift a can of Kraft cheese to a nun!

But there was something I valued more than cheese. More than all the chocolates and colas put together.

It was Mama!

Mama was a Thai brand of noodles. Very much like Maggi noodles. But it had a different taste and came with two small packets inside the larger packet that contained the hardened block of noodles stuck together. One small packet contained the masala, the taste maker and the other small packet contained the pungent smelling shrimp oil, in which it was to be cooked. More often than not we ate it uncooked. By we I mean my Thai friends who got loads of Mama packets as a part of their tuck. They used to crush the packet without even opening it, so that the long hardened noodles would break into tiny pieces. Once that was accomplished, the packet was opened and the masala sprinkled and the mixture shaken so that the masala would flavour the broken noodles with its spicy, tangy, somewhat sweet and definitely addictive taste.

Sometime I was lucky and got to taste Mama, when a Thai friend happened to extend his open packet towards me. I would dip my small fingers and retrieve a small portion of the mixture. As I put it into my mouth and crunched it with great relish, I was always left wanting for more. Like indulging in foreplay, and not being allowed to proceed further.

I had a childhood fantasy.

It was to have our football field filled with Mama, loads and loads of it and I could eat it to my heart’s content. I have heard, that our unfulfilled desires find manifestation in our dreams. Unfortunately, this fantasy did not find fulfillment even in my dreams.

The closest I came to having Mama was when we used have “party” at night. A few us, boys sleeping in the same dormitory, would get up, some minutes, after light were switched off by the matron. In our night-suits, we would stealthily walk in the darkness to the common washing area that had a number of wash basins lined in a row. Each of us would carry something to eat, ranging from biscuits, chocolates or even a fruit that may have been served to us at dinner time. On few occasions someone would get a few packets of Mama. At such times, we would pour some hot water from the boiler into a plastic mug, dip the Mama into it, sprinkle the masala and stir the mixture. It would take less than 2 minutes for the noodles to cook and be ready to eat. We then greedily scooped the noodles with our fingers and stuffed the steaming curly Mama into our tiny mouths. That was my first experience at cooking. Unfortunately I never proceeded further than that in my culinary skills as an adult, even though I do make it a point to avoid using plastic mugs.

I was wondering though, why would a bunch of nine-year old boys, staying in a boarding school who have just had dinner, want to “party” after everyone has gone to sleep?

It occurred to me boarding life is pretty regimented. There is a time for everything.

A time to wake up, a time to get ready, a time to have breakfast, a time to study, a time to have lunch, a time to resume study, a time to play, a time to stop play, a time to get ready for dinner, a time to have dinner, a time to do your homework and a time to sleep. A life where we had no say over how we would want to spend our time. The establishment decided every aspect of our life. Not that it was cruel. It just robbed me of the faculty of making my own choices and being responsible for them. Years later when I had quit the corporate world and started working on my own, I used to feel lost at times how to manage my time, if I did not have someone telling me what to do or checking on what I have done.

I now realize eating Mama after lights were switched off, was my first small step of rebellion against the establishment that ruled my life.

Those tiny fingers holding steaming noodles were trying hard to wrench back the control that adults had established over my life. It was an effort to reclaim what rightfully belonged to me. In the best manner I could. By boiling Mama in a plastic mug and eating it, when I was clearly not supposed to be doing it. In those moments, Mama symbolized my first struggle for freedom.

I do not know what the other boys, who “partied” after lights out are doing in their lives at the moment. I only hope that we have not entirely lost some of the fighting spirit we demonstrated as children. That our taste for freedom has not been totally extinguished by our struggles to find ourselves as adults.

Recently a school friend who was visiting Mumbai from Thailand, happened to ask me what could he get for me. Without a moment’s hesitation I said “Mama!”. So he got me a carton of Mama with fifty packets in the carton. I have had more than half of them, by crushing the packets and adding the taste maker. Even though I still have more than a few packets of Mama left, my craving for it has dissipated considerably. I guess fantasies have a greater power when they remain unfulfilled.

Or perhaps Mama had already fulfilled its role in my life, the first time I boiled it in a plastic mug after lights out.

My first…tentative…tiny…taste of freedom!

***

What do you recollect of your first taste of freedom?

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To

Dattaram Waghmare,

Procurement Manager

Jefferson Spice Extract Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate,

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India

From

Arvind Dasgupta,

The HR Director

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office, 95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharashtra

India

Dear Dattaram,

I have received your letter dated August 30, 2012. I have used my discretion to keep your heartfelt expression off the record.

I have noted that you are concerned about the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in human behaviour and relations. You have made a creative suggestion that we explore honest conversations among employees to build a meaningful and effective work culture.

Your letter made me ponder, as the concerns that you have raised are some of the issues (among others) that I have been reflecting upon throughout my HR career. In particular this question:

What is the freedom available to corporate employees to be creative and honest?

Therefore, Dattaram, my response here, is as much to myself, than just to you.

Given my position as the HR Director of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd., I was wondering what would be the most appropriate way to respond to your observations. As you may be well aware that being in HR, there is always a matter of propriety (being appropriate). Nevertheless, I was keen to respond to your letter since the points you raised triggered in me a prolonged self-inquiry, particularly your question:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

Keeping all of this in mind, I am writing this letter to you, in my personal capacity as Arvind Dasgupta and not as the HR Director. I believe that only when a person is free of role restrictions can he be truly honest. I am therefore sending you this letter from my personal email address.

After giving it due thought, I have come to the conclusion, that in order to respond to your question at the very root, I will need to share with you something about my life, before I became an HR Director. Like all inquiries that seek to go to the root of the problem, this inquiry also begins with a story.

Arvind Dasgupta’s story.

I was born in a traditional Bengali family. My father, Soumendranath Dasgupta migrated from East Bengal in 1947 when he was 15 years old, along with my grandparents. After much movement and hardships, the family set base in the town of Siliguri, in West Bengal. Siliguri, located on the banks of the Mahananda river and on the foothills of the Himalayas is known for its tea and tourism. Baba through much of his own efforts educated himself, by working part-time at the reception desk of a small hotel and financing his own education. A significant part of his salary would go in running the house consisting of my grandparents and my Bua, his sister. After his graduation he gave the government exams and joined the Indian Railway. His first job was as railway guard on a train. Soon after, he married my mother Rukmini, who was five years younger to him and hailed from a nearby village called SaktigarhMa had studied upto the 10th standard, which was an exception for a girl of her background. Their’s was an arranged marriage. Even though Baba insisted on seeing Ma before the alliance was fixed, which was an exception, as it was not the custom for boys and girls to see each other before the marriage was finalised. I am told, he was finally allowed to enter the room where mother was knitting a sweater, stole a quick glance at her, came out satisfied. Three months later, they were married in a traditional Bengali wedding, spanning many days. Baba was 23. Ma was 18.

Dattaram, you must be wondering why I am sharing about Baba and Ma with you and how is this related to HR and training effectiveness in Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd?  I request your patience. Eventually you will see  how these two, seemingly distant aspects, of my family background and corporate effectiveness are related.

Baba and Ma had dreamed of having their own house after marriage. Their dream came true when Baba was allotted a small railway quarter near Siliguri Junction station. Ma told me that it was a small room and a kitchen. The room and the kitchen were separated by a curtain. The left portion of the kitchen would be used as a washing and bathing space and loft was used to store items not in immediate use. Baba had an erratic schedule, depending on which train he was deputed for guard duty. Ma would spend most of her time cooking, cleaning and sometimes talking to the women next door. Of course I was still not born, so whatever I am sharing with you is based on what I have heard from them.

I was born five years after marriage. Ma had two miscarriages before I was born. She was anxious that a normal pregnancy may never occur. Both Baba and Ma went to the Sevokeshwari Kali Mandir to pray for a normal delivery. When Ma was pregnant a third time with me, she recited the Gayatri  mantra 108 times every day till the day I was born. Baba made adjustments to his duty schedule to be present at the time I was born.

I am told that I was born on a Poornima, on a full moon night.

I received a warm reception from Thakur-da, Thakur-ma, Dadu, Dida, Bua and ofcourse Baba and Ma at the railway hospital where I was born. Everyone wanted to hold me and see who I resembled in the family.  After two days of my birth Ma returned home. On the first night of my arrival at home, Baba held me in his strong arms, looked at me for a long time and promised me something. Something that he had to struggle all through his life to achieve.

Education.

He told Ma “Ruku, no matter what hardships we have to go through, we will provide the best education to our son”. Ma smiled back and nodded her head silently. It was a pact that would have a significant affect on how my life would unfold. Even though neither of them said it, they instinctively knew at that moment that I would be their only child and henceforth their lives would have a singular purpose. Me.

“Aurobindo” said Thakur-da, my paternal grandfather. They were discussing what would be my name. Sri Aurobindo was a Bengali freedom fighter, philosopher, poet and yogi. Baba wanted a shorter name that sounded more Indian. They settled for Arvind.

“Arvind Dasgupta” announced Ma, holding me up,as though formalizing the decision.

Starting from the alphabet ‘A’ I was usually the third person on the roll call list of my class at school. The teacher would call out “Amit”, “Arijit”, “Arvind”…. There were around 35 to 40 students in the class. St. Josephs Convent and one of the best English medium schools, run by Christian missionary fathers. It was not easy to get admission there, especially not for a Station Master’s son. Baba had gradually been promoted through his dedicated hard-work and held the post of the Station Master of Siliguri Junction, seven years after my birth. Given the promise he had made to me, he wanted to admit me in the best English medium school. After much pleading with the school principal (and using some of his railway connections) he finally managed to get me admitted to a school, the expenses of which he definitely could not afford from his meagre salary. But, that was the last thing on his mind. All he could see at that moment was, Arvind Dasgupta, his son, completing school with flying colours as a “smart-English-speaking-convent-educated-boy” many years later.

St. Joseph’s Convent was a school mostly for the affluent. The school had hostel facility and children from well-to-do families came from various parts of India, and a few even from abroad. A few of us were locals from Siliguri mostly from middle class families like mine. While my grey sweaters were hand-made, most of my classmates were ready-made. I always made some excuse not to accompany them to the school canteen for Campa Cola and samosas. They wore imported shoes, mine were from the local brand. Even though I was aware of this class distinction, between me and them, I never complained.

Baba and Ma always provided for me, the best they could.

Till this day I do not know how they managed to pay my fees and take care of other school expenses. Ma had started a tiffin service where she cooked meals and snacks for a local eatery from home. There were compromises on all kinds of expenses – food, clothing, festivals, social-functions, holidays – except one.

My education.

Neither Baba or Ma, ever mentioned the difficulties they underwent  to provide me a premium education. Their only expectation was that I study hard and get good marks.

Whenever I used to get 60 marks, Baba would ask me “Why not 70?” When I got 70, he would ask “Why not 80?” and on the rare occasion I managed a 80, the question was “Why not 90?” So I was always competing with my classmates for getting the maximum marks. I once managed get 2nd rank in class and Baba asked “Why not 1st?” That was his way of encouraging me to work harder. And I kept studying hard to get more marks….and his love and approval.

The problem, as I see it now, was just that.

We had bound each other.

He had bound himself by providing me with an education way beyond his means and I had bound myself by wanting to meet all his expectations.  Of course we did it because of our love for each other. However, the love that binded us, also blinded us.

Dattaram, you may wonder how can love blind us?

You will say “After all children must meet the expectations of their parents, who give up their own comforts to provide for the best upbringing for their children.It is the natural thing to do for both parents and children.”

But as I see it now, that my friend, is exactly where the root of the problem lies.

Baba like all parents provided me the best education, so that I could excel in life and create name, fame and money for myself. So that I did not have to go through the same drudgery that he had to go through. He therefore admitted me to a system, a school, where I entered the race to excel and beat my fellow classmates. The gaping hole in this process was that no one ever checked with me, whether I wanted to run that race. And when I was made to run a race that I had not chosen to run:

I stopped thinking for myself.

My thinking became automated. I simply followed what I was told. I never stopped to think what I wanted for myself. Where did my own happiness lie?

Did I really want to get 90 marks in mathematics? Was it my dream to come 1st in class? Did I really want to study Chemistry? Did I want to follow the school time-table? Did I want to give exam? Did I want to struggle for more marks?

I had a poetic and philosophical bent of mind, just like my namesake Sri Aurobindo. As a nine-year old, you could find me writing something in my small blue diary which I carried with me all the time. I would often sit under the large banyan tree at the outskirts of the school campus and watch the sparrows and the squirrels play with each other on its old drooping branches. Other times I would visit the bank of the Mahananda river and watch the waters gushing against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan peaks. Sometimes I would simply lie on a grassy patch of our football field and gaze at the white fluffy clouds, shaped like balls of cotton drift lazily across the blue canvas of the sky. And, I would write in my small blue diary, with my red and black striped Camlin pencil.

Once Baba saw me writing and asked “What do u keep writing in that diary of yours?”

I immediately became self-conscious and after a pause I said “Poems.”

“Hmmm…very good. All our Bengali freedom fighters have been poets.” He said.

After a moment’s silence, he added.

“But remember poems cannot get you a job. Only a good degree can. And for that you need good marks.”

“Yes Baba.” And I put my diary away.

In that moment, for the first time I felt guilty.

I was reminded of the difficulties Baba and Ma were undergoing to educate me. I felt torn between my love for poetry and my love for Baba and Ma. I felt ashamed for indulging myself in a pursuit that would not translate into anything practical. A bigger house, new clothes or more food at the table. I said to myself “How can I be so selfish, when Baba and Ma are sacrificing so much for me.”

You see Dattaram, my future was more or less charted for me, very much like the future of most men born in a Middle Class Family.

“Degree-Job-Marriage”

Later when I was to join College, I made one last attempt at being selfish.  I considered taking up Arts and pursue psychology and literature. I was always good at writing and thought maybe I could consider being a journalist or a writer. I still remember the time I shared this with Baba and Ma and the grave look on their face.

“Will psychology and literature get you a job?” said Baba.

“I think you should give it some thought?” said Ma

“Why don’t you take up Commerce. You could get a good bank job?” said Baba

“You are bright, you should give the Civil Services exam” said Ma

I realized then, as I had always known, but did not want to believe.

Education was not about learning. It was about earning.

After all, for The Middle Class education is an investment. An important investment. And like every investment, it is expected to give a good return. You see, investments are of two kinds. Financial and emotional. The financial can be repaid, but the emotional investment has no measure. And repayment can last a lifetime.

You know Dattaram, you may see me as “The HR Director”. But below this black business suit of mine I am not very different from you. What is common between us, is our love for our families. For our parents who have done so much for us. For our children who mean the world to us. But sometimes Dattaram, we use love unknowingly, to enslave ourselves and others.

I have learnt from my experience, when we are not allowed as children to be loyal to our own happiness, we give up our freedom. To think and question radically, as you have. We become followers of The Existing System, pursuing what everybody else does. Seeking happiness in a degree, designation, salary, house, car and what others say about us. It becomes irrelevant whether we enjoy what we do. It is of no consequence whether we believe in what we do. And some of us even fool ourselves into believing that all of this normal. We believe that this is how life is meant to be lived.  And it is easy to fool ourselves, because everyone else is doing the same thing. As though the only criteria for assessing what is normal is what the majority does. We rationalize it by saying “Let us be practical”.

I believe if there is a root of corruption in the world, then it is:

“Not allowing children the freedom, to be true to their own happiness”.

I eventually did, what most of the other students were doing. Graduated in commerce and did my Masters in Business Administration, from a reputed business college renowned for its Human Resource specialization.

“Which business college?” you ask

You see Dattaram, from here on the details of my life do not matter.

“Why?” you ask.

Because from here on, as you will see, my life takes the predictable pattern of most educated men and women belonging to the Middle Class. Degree-Job-Marriage.

The Middle Class calls this process “settle down in life”.

The business college was a heady experience in more ways than one.

Gradually, I began to believe, like most of my batch mates, that we were on our way to make a difference to the world and fulfill The Great Indian Middle Class Dream. Buy a house in the city. Just like my Baba and Ma dreamed of having their own house, when they got married. Only in my dreams it was a bigger house, than our humble railway quarters.  And instead of the blue scooter on which Baba would take us shopping on Sunday, with me sitting in the front and Ma behind with her big pale red shopping bag, I dreamed of a big car. When I shared my dreams with Baba and Ma they smiled with satisfaction. They felt that their hard work was paying off. I was on the right track. So what if I did not want to work in a bank or take up the civil services, I was now thinking of “settling down”, the sole parameter used by The Middle Class to consider that all is well.

The other “headiness” at the business school was of concepts and ideas. We discussed and debated theory after theory. Applied psychology, organizational behaviour, management  principles, labour laws, systemic thinking, training methodologies, psychometric instruments, recruitment processes, performance and evaluation systems. Everything and anything related to managing human beings in organizations. Human Resources we called them. As though we were talking of a large mass or an impersonal force of nature that was to be used in the most effective manner to produce goods and services.

I have realized that one can find great joy in debating concepts and theories. Creating intellectual delight! Yet life is an experience, that no theory can capture.

I realized this in my very first job.

It was with a reputed Indian Company. I was responsible for recruitment. To arrange for the right candidate to fill the vacant job position. It mostly required co-ordination between manager, placement agency and the candidate. I also took interviews. At times, I wondered when will I get a chance to use all the HR theories and concepts that I had learnt in my reputed Management College. After a year of experience, I realized one fine day, that the world of theories is different from the real world. The real world wants fast results and measurable outcomes. And if I had to survive, leave alone grow, I had to show a Return On Investment. The Company was investing in me. And, I had to prove to them that I was a good investment.  You see at the end of it all, everything boils down to investment and return.

I got lucky in my next job as Head of the HR function of a newly set up engineering multinational company. There, I learnt the ropes of managing the management on one hand and the employees on the other. It is a tight balancing act, that cannot be taught at any business school. But, balancing is a natural skill of The Middle Class. We are always to trying to find a balance between our growing needs and the limited resources available to meet them. It did not take me long to apply “balancing” at work, with good results. It was during this time that I got married. It was an arranged Bengali marriage, and even though she is not convent educated (a pre-requisite for all good middle-class Indian brides), she is slim and fair, as Ma insisted upon it. She wanted her grand children to be fair. And by God’s grace (and Ma’s sincere prayers) they are fair. Two of them, a girl and a boy.

Thereafter life has been a blur of activity. Late working hours, children’s education, meeting social obligations and two more jobs. Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) is my fifth job. I am 52 now and the HR Director of a big multinational Company. I am an example of what it means to be a successful.  Once a year I make it a point to visit Baba and Ma at Siliguri, during Durga puja.  Baba spends most of his time managing his fixed deposits and pension. He uses a stick to walk now and Ma has arthritis in her knees, but they are remarkably active even in their old age. They are immensely happy that I have fulfilled the Great Indian Middle Class Dream of settling down. They share with pride about their son’s meteoric rise in the corporate sector with whoever cares to listen. You see Dattaram, among all the Gods The Middle Class family prays to, there is only one that it truly worships.

The God of Success.

Both my children are now in America. My daughter Indrani, is pursuing medicine and son Abhijit, is doing his management in one the most reputed college there. They are the love of my life! Just like my Baba and Ma did for me, I too am offering them an education that stretches my financial resources. I have taken an education loan to pay for their college fees. And just like my Baba and Ma wanted to see me settled down, I would like to see them successfully settled in their lives. Both Indrani and Abhijit, tell me (now in their American accented English) that they would like to look for jobs in America after they complete their studies. Pursue the The Great American Dream, just as so many Indians before them have and found success. They are both intelligent children and I am sure they have a bright future ahead of them.

When I reflect on the three generations, I see the progress our family has made each generation. From Baba and Ma being middle class, me moving to upper middle class and now Indrani and Abhijit likely to become Non-Resident Indians. I sometimes wonder, what will be the fate of my grand children, if  they are born in a foreign country, with abundant resources available to them. Will they educate themselves for learning or earning? Will they be allowed to pursue what gives them happiness? Will there parents pressurize them to become successful? Or will they be confused about who they are and come back to India in search of their roots?

Of course I will come to know in time to come. Even though the mind tends to wander into the future as I come to the end of My Story, Dattaram.

Now let me share with you how the story of Arvind Dasgupta, a simple middle class Indian boy coming from a traditional Bengali family, is linked to corporate effectiveness.

But before I do that let me address your observation.

On the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in organizations?  

This may come as a surprise to you, but what you say is not new to me.

I myself have questioned many times the effectiveness of what happens in organizations, leave alone testing and training.  In my experience of working in various organizations I have often seen (and been a part of) a variety of activities that in my view were a waste of time and resources for the intent they were meant to achieve. And often, people do not always mean what they say.

I have heard about the “open door policy” where I was told that I could walk into any cabin and freely discuss whatever I wanted. Only to know that I actually had no say when it came to making decisions.

I have spent hours working on a “presentation” that was filled with colourful graphs and pie charts detailing the company vision, that left me and the audience unmoved.

I have attended “meetings” where the real issue was never discussed, because none of us wanted to risk being the one to ask difficult questions.

I have attended “training” programs in the most exotic locations, when what was really needed was to budget expenses and make important decisions.

I have created “developmental frameworks” because they looked good on paper and were easy to present, but often these did not result in any development or change at the ground level.

I have hired “branded consultants” because they offered the latest popular management concept and it was safe for me to hire them.

And sometimes I have asked people “to leave” not because they were bad at what they did, but because the Company needed to cut costs.

All of this is part of the work I do.

I see all this. We see all see this. Sometimes I speak up, sometimes I choose not to. Sometimes others speak up, sometimes they choose not to. You see it is all about “maintaining a balance”. In every organization there is something called the “mandate”. It means an authorization to act in a certain way, given by a superior authority to a lower one. There are different kind of mandates. Global mandate, Management mandate, HR mandate. In other words we all, including me, have somebody controlling our actions from above. One of the unspoken laws of the corporate world is that “one should speak only as much as the mandate he has”. Speaking beyond your given mandate mostly creates trouble for the person who breaks this unspoken law.

And no matter what happens we rationalize and find explanations to justify our decisions and actions, as long as we have the “buy-in” of the person on top. And if your boss were to pull the rug away from your feet, then no amount of explanation or rationalization works.

Let me share a secret with you.

Among all the competencies you listed for your job in your letter, there is an important competency that you missed out. Even though it is not listed, it has been a requirement in all organizations I have worked.

Conformity.

Organizations want individuals to be proactive and innovative. But within the “defined framework”. At the end of the day we have to do our task and show results. Including HR. Which means “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” Keeping in mind what “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” means for the top boss or the set culture. We have to follow The System that we are a part of. It changes from company to company. Management to management. And with every new job we have to adapt and maintain this fine balancing act. We do not decide how The System functions, we just maintain it.

It is not difficult for The Middle Class to demonstrate conformity. Just like balancing, it is something that comes naturally to us. In fact after a while it makes us comfortable. That we do not need to decide, and someone else can decide for us. Just as I did not have a choice in what I studied at school, we have limited choice and freedom at work. Other times we are limited by our own inability to think beyond what The System wants us to think. I like to believe I am free, but deep down I know that:

I am a part of a larger wheel.

The wheel can survive without me, even though it is doubtful whether I can survive without the wheel.

Dattaram, you speak of the need to have real conversations.  Being honest with each other to resolve our problems and achieve our goals.

For honest conversations to happen we need freedom. And the question if there is one to ask is:

What binds us?

You and me Dattaram, we may have different roles and backgrounds yet we have something in common that binds us.It is the same thing that binds every corporate employee, from the MBA educated Director at the top, to the office boy who gets tea for us, at the bottom.

Our sentimentalism.

After a while the reports, the trainings, the power points, the assessments, the meetings and the management jargon stop making sense. Jobs gradually lose their meaning. We learn to go through the motions. Or we make ourselves believe that this is how life is meant to be and seek meaning within our circle of engagement. After all happiness is a subjective transitory experience and our ability to seek happiness is restricted by the boundaries of our limited knowledge. What is real though, are the EMIs we have to pay for the loans we have taken to meet our responsibility, to the only people who truly matter to us in the world.

Our children.

We live for them and we are willing to die for them. In fact we die a thousand times for them without their knowledge. Just to see them happy and comfortable. We give away our freedom for the love of our children. Unfortunately, we take away theirs too.

They say The Buddha was a free man. He left his sleeping wife and child to earn his freedom. I do not think it is possible for you or me to do that. I rather be a sentimental slave, than a heartless free man. Infact, it is not choice I make. The choice was made for me, when as a child I noticed the sacrifices Baba and Ma made to give me a Convent education. When Baba reminded me that poems do not get jobs. When I decided to fulfill the Great Indian Middle Class Dream, to buy a house in the city and have a big car.

When I stopped thinking for myself.  

That is the story behind why I, as HR Director, does as much as I do and cannot do more than I am asked to do. I have to work within a mandate. And, I have to show results that can be seen and are recognised, like reports and trainings, even though you may find them confusing and their effects temporary. After all, honest conversations cannot fill the training calendar.

Dattaram, you ask me why is it difficult to be simple?

I do not have an answer for that, but I have other questions for us to explore.

Is honesty possible without freedom?

Is freedom given or is it taken?

What does it mean to be free?

I do not have answers to these questions either, but I feel for the first time as Arvind Dasgupta, I am beginning to ask questions that really matter. They may not impact my immediate corporate goals as HR Director. They may not even have any practical use, just like my childhood poems didn’t. But, I have now learnt through life experience, that practical solutions often result in practical problems and we keep running in circles fixing problems that would have never arisen if we had chosen to be “impractical” to begin with.

You say “Can we start being impractical now?”

I don’t know Dattaram.

Perhaps, we could.

Perhaps the time has come to experiment with impracticality to achieve practical results. Perhaps the invitation was always there. I was not ready to take it.

This letter to you is my first step towards having an honest conversation.

I hope it is not the last.

Yours sincerely,

Arvind Dasgupta

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To

The HR Director Sir,

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office,

95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharshtra

India

 

From

Dattaram Waghmare

Procurement Manager,

Jefferson Spice Extracts Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India


Dear Respected HR Director Sir,

Myself Dattaram Waghmare, Manager of Procurement at the Khopoli plant.  You may not remember me Sir, but I know you as everyone else does at our Plant. When you visited the plant with the Managing Director three months back you came to my cabin (third cabin from the left of the water cooler on the first floor of the administrative building) and shook my hand with a broad smile. It was a proud moment for me Sir, that you visited my small humble cabin. Hope you remember me now (I was wearing my favourite blue checks half sleeve shirt in honour of your visit). Even if you do not, I would not blame you Sir, since you visited so many cabins that day and met so many managers and workers, that it would be difficult to keep all of us in your important mind.

The reason I am taking my freedom to write this letter to you and eat your precious time, is because of what you said to me that day.

You said:

“Dattaram if you ever have any problem do not hesitate to get in touch with me. We appreciate the work you are doing and the Company believes in taking care of it’s loyal employees.” 

Thank you Sir.

Listening to you say those words made me feel high all day, that day. (When I have few drinks with my co-managers sometimes in the evenings after work, they say “Dattaram you have become high”. I do not know why they say high, when I am still on ground, but the feeling was same to same…intoxicating) This high boosted my morale and made me feel motivated to deliver my best for the Company, as I have been delivering for the past twenty years.

Apologies for getting into by-lane Sir and eating more of your precious time, let me come straight to the point, of why I am writing this letter to your esteemed self. I now have a problem. And since you said that I can share any of my problem with you, I am taking my freedom to do that with this letter.

I do not know how to start…or where to start…because it is a complex problem….like all problems this problem also has a story behind it…

Even though it had been troubling me for some time, I first noticed the problem (clearly) when I got a 360 degree report from my senior, Mr Sharma, the Plant Manager two months back. He called me to his cabin, which is much bigger than mine and made me sit on the soft black leather chair. (I wish HR could distribute those chairs to all managers… for that I will write another time)

Mr Sharma said to me:

“Dattaram here is your 360 degree report. Please go through it. We will discuss this next week. There is also a Leadership Training program next month where you will be coached on the feedback in this report by expert coaches.”

As I went through the 52 page report Sir in my cabin later, I felt lost, confused and heavy (in the head) as I was filled with so much information that I could not make sense of it. And that is when it struck me Sir, the problem, clearly.

You see Sir, in the report my good self has been divided into five categories, and each category has further five divisions. The categories are “Leading Myself”, “Leading Others”, “Leading Business”, “Leading For Growth” and “Leading ….” (I do not remember what the fifth leading is about). I have been rated by my senior manager, my peers, my direct reports on different points such as:

“Do I inspire and grow talent.”

“Do I possess entrepreneur spirit”

“Do I take my team along”

“Do I have strategic outlook”

So on and so forth….

For each of these statement I have been given marks by different people from 1 to 5 (just like it was in my school report), but the problem here is that I do not know who has given me what marks and why has he given me those marks. You see Sir the report says that it wishes to protect the confidentiality of the people giving me marks.

At the end of the report there are written remarks, from people I work with, such as:

“Dattaram is good with technical skills, but requires to focus on developing strategic outlook.”

“Dattaram needs to focus on follow-up and bring more passion to meeting his deadlines”

“Dattaram has to bring greater innovation to the procurement process and get work done from his team, rather than do it himself.”

Now when I read this report I ask my good self.

“Dattaram what do all these marks and statements mean? Who has given what marks and why? Who is writing what and why?” “What it means to be innovative, strategic or getting work from my team?”

As I ponder on all these questions Sir I get lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

So I decide to keep the 360 degree report in my last drawer of my desk, where I keep all such reports that I cannot understand what to do. As I open my drawer I see that it is already full of reports and there is no place for the 52 page 360 degree report. So decide to take out these reports and see what are these reports that have eaten up all the space in my last most drawer. As I arranged them in a pile, one on top of the other, they seemed like a mountain of data about myself. And I feel I am struggling to climb this mountain of reports.

“Your (meaning My) Temperament – August 2007

“FIRO B – May 2008”

“DISC Profiling – June 2009”

“Asessment Center Report – Sep 2010”

“Six Dimension EQ – April 2011”

“Situational Leadership – Oct 2011”

“MBTI, Step 1, Step 2, – Jan 2012”

“Jefferson Spice Extracts Global Value Based Leadership Report – Mar 2012”

These are some of the reports Sir, since I joined the procurement department as manager in 2007.  Prior to that, I was working as a deputy in supply chain and I have got more reports for that designation, that are now lying at my home in the beautiful company quarters. Looking at these reports I deeply think, how much our esteemed American-Indian Company has taken the trouble of developing me into a leader and bettering my work relationship with my colleagues. Please convey my regards to Mr. Jefferson and his family in America and also tell Mr. Jefferson that I try my best to follow his family values of “Innovation, Quality, Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Accountability”.

But coming back to these reports Sir.

“I do not understand them.”

Please forgive me to say this, but keeping in mind our Company value of ethics, I am taking freedom to be honest. These reports are full of scales, alphabets and description, very much like the 360 degree report. They highlight my strengths and weaknesses, some makes sense, some does not, some I agree and some I do not agree. But my question to you Respected Sir, with utmost humility, since you are expert in the field of Human Resources management is:

“What do I do with this mountain of information?”

You see Sir when I was born (sorry for going into flashback suddenly) my grandmother Parvati Waghmare (God bless her soul), got the village priest to draw my horoscope. You see Sir I come from a small village called Nandangaon, 20 kilometres from Satara, a district in Maharashtra. In our village Sir, there is a custom to draw the horoscope of the child as soon as he is born, just as it is in most of India. (I am sure your esteemed self must be having a horoscope too, with very bright stars, which you consult from time to time) Like you know Sir, a horoscope tells in detail about a person’s personality, his qualities, skills, behaviour, likes and dislikes. Not only that, it also tells how much he will study, when he will get married and what work he will do. Also, how much money he will make. And mind you Sir, all this is very scientific based on the planetary positions at the time of a person’s birth.  A lot of these predictions have come true Sir for me, in my life. How else can a poor farmer’s son work as procurement manager in the esteemed company of Mr Jefferson. All of this is written and cannot be changed.

Please do not misunderstand Sir. I am not a fatalist. No, No, No. Not at all. I am firm believer of hard work. I have practised hard work all my life. I would never have survived without it. But I am a practical man. You see Sir,

“I am what I am.”

After reading so much of this analysis of my good self, I feel like the “dead rat” being seen under a microscope in the science laboratory of my college in Satara. There are so many alphabets, labels and numbers given to my attitude and behaviour that I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

If you ask me Sir, I still feel like I the same Dattaram Waghmare who joined the Company as a trainee supervisor in 1992. I was sincere, hardworking and believed in good relations with colleagues. I still feel the same. But lately, in the past few years, after undergoing so many tests, assessments and trainings I feel that it is not good enough to be “me” for the work I do. For every role now, there are detailed qualities to develop. There is a special name to it too. That word I find difficult to pronounce. Let me try. They call it the “Comp-e-ten-cy Framework”. And HR, as your good self would know tries it’s best to fit us or develop in us those comp-e-ten-cies that are best suited for our job. This is a new trend Sir, just like this Facebook craze on the internet. (My teenage daughter Priya is all the time on Facebook) So just like Facebook on internet there is this “comp-e-ten-cy framework” trend in Companies.  (Just between you and me Sir, I feel this “comp-e-ten-cy business” is a scheme started by some cunning HR person in partnership with a cunning trainer to fool people into thinking that they are getting developed, so that people take HR seriously and the trainer can make some money)

You see Sir, there are number of competencies prescribed for my job.

  1. Innovation
  2. Strategic Thinking
  3. Team Development
  4. Leadership
  5. Quality
  6. Communication
  7. Execution.

Sir, when I think of all these “comp-e-ten-cies”, I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head). I do not know what to do. I am simple man Sir and I do my work, have good relations with everyone and try to go back home to my wife and children on time. (You see my wife gets very upset if I come late). These words, ratings and “comp-e-ten-cies” confuse me. Just like sometimes I feel during training programs.

Yes Sir, and that is the second part of my problem.

The problem is that the Company is making so much efforts to “develop” my thinking, my relating, my leadership so that I can give my best performance to the Company. And it is doing all this through testing and training me. But I am now beginning to wonder

“Is all this testing and training to develop my good self a waste of time and money?”

And when I say this Sir, please do not misunderstand me. I am aware of the good intentions of HR for the Company and its employees. I am sharing this with you because I get a feeling that the pure hearted and trusting HR department of our ethical Jefferson Company is getting fooled by consultants and trainers, who charge the Company good money for creating reports and training programs that do not make any difference in the long run.

You see Sir, I have also attended many training programs over the years.

“Coaching for Excellence – Aug 2007”

“Leading For Change – Jan 2008”

“Joy At Workplace – Dec 2008”

“Appreciating Self and Others – Mar 2009”

“Learning From Nature, Outbound Training – June 2010

“Building Teams That Work – March 2011”

“Learning Through Case Studies – October 2011”

“Building Learning Organizations – Jan 2012”

“Out of Bound, Outbound Training – June 2012”

As I write to you Sir, I see at all the group photos on my desk for these training programs and some are pinned on my soft board. It brings back fond memories Sir. Of the games we played, the good places we visited, the hotels we stayed in, the food we ate (some were in five-star hotels, being a poor farmers son, I almost fainted when I saw the quantity of rich type of food available) and the new friends I made from people of other departments.

The formats of all the trainings were more or less the same. Activity, game, group talking, trainer talking, inspirational video, case study, profile testing (Sir I sincerely feel if, HR or any trainer does another profile testing of my good self, I will throw up and become violently sick!), feedback, group discussion, evening party.

I have enjoyed all these trainings and felt filled up with learning and motivation at the end of each of them. Most of my colleagues have felt the same way. And we all have given good feedback in the training forms we fill at the end of the training as you would have noticed. There are few people who believe that these trainings do not make any difference and they are there just to have a good time. I did not believe them Sir. You see Sir, there are always some rotten apples in a basket of good apples, as there is saying in English language. But the problem that I am facing now is that I am beginning to start believing in what these “rotten apples” are saying.

I am beginning to question and wonder what difference have these training programs have made to me, to my relationship or to my work, in the long run. And after some very, very hard thinking I have come to firm conclusion Sir.

“It has not changed anything.”

I continue to be who I am. And my colleagues continue to be who they are. And our working relations (good or bad) is as it always was. And even if something has changed, I do not think it has changed because of testing and training.

You see Sir the impact of each training does not last for more than two days (sometimes lesser). Just like watching the movie of Mr Salman Khan. Youngsters start behaving like Salman Bhai after watching his movies like Dabang and Wanted, but you see Sir the effect does not last very long and very soon they start  behaving in the manner that their horoscope tells them to.

When I used to be young in college at Satara, I used  be a big fan of Sri Amitabh Bachanji. (I still am Sir and our entire family is keenly awaiting the next episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. I am sure you must be seeing it with your family too.) I went to see this movie Deewar. In the movie Sri Amitabh Bachanji plays angry young man, like in all his movies. But this one had big impact on me. I felt angry at The System for making me poor. For having to work so hard to get even decent education. And for having to collect so much money to marry my sisters. The System, was the villain. And Vijay (Sri Bachanji’s name in the movie) fought The System. Just as I was a victim of The System.

After the movie I felt Vijay’s character had entered into my body. And I joined the college students union to fight The System. But it did not last very long. When the Principal called me to his office and said he would expel me from college for creating a nuisance. I thought of my poor farmer father, my aging mother, the unmarried sisters at home and I started crying. All I wanted was to earn a decent degree and get a secure job so I could get my sisters married and release my mother’s jewellery mortgaged with the village landlord. I did not want to fight The System. I just wanted not to be poor. I wanted money to buy back my village land, a house, take care of my family, get married and live happily. As I am doing now.

Training programs are like that. They make you believe some fancy notion of yourself and you start believing it for a while. But the effect does not last long. It is like filling a balloon with air. It starts bobbing and jumping in the air. But after two days the air comes out and the balloon is back to its original state. Unless someone pricks the balloon and burst the temporary high energy.

I know Sir, you must now be wondering:

“Dattaram I am understanding what you are saying, but what do you want me to do?”

 I understand your impatience Sir and once again apologies for eating your precious time. But I will request your kind patience just for little time more.

You see Sir I share, everything with my wife. (Just as I am sure you do with your wife) She is only tenth standard failed and she comes from small village near mine. (You should come to our house on Sunday and taste the chicken curry she makes, it is a truly Godly and a holy eating experience) One Sunday, I shared with Lakshmi (that is her name and it is also the name of the Goddess of wealth in Hindu tradition. She has lived up to her name Sir, after marriage I have never been short of money, I have enough Sir for a man of my background and you see Sir, I am a practical man), yes, yes I am coming to the point Sir.

I shared with Lakshmi this confused, lost and heavy (in the head feeling) Actually, she noticed even before I shared, and I told her about this 360 degree report that I could not understand. Let me reproduce to you our conversation, so that I do not miss anything. Original conversation was in Marathi, which I have translated in English for your esteemed self.

Lakhsmi: “What is the matter? You seem lost these days?”

My Good Self: “There is a report I cannot understand.”

Lakshmi: “What report?”

My Good Self: “A report where my senior, colleagues and juniors have said something about me.”

Lakshmi: “What have they said about you?”

My Good Self: “That is what I cannot understand. It is all in scales, graphs, percentages, ratings. And what they have written is general. I do not even know who has written what and why he has written it?”

Lakhsmi: “Have they not written their names against what they have said?”

My Good Self:  “No. Because their identity has to be protected?”

Lakhmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: “Because…..that is the way it is, as per the report.”

Lakshmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: <silent>

Lakshmi: “So you are saying, that to tell each other something at work, you do it through a report that you cannot understand?  And none of you writes his name after what he is saying?”

My Good Self: <Head nodding> (Indian way of saying yes)

Lakshmi: (stirring the chicken curry) “Why don’t you simply talk to each other?”

That is when it hit me Sir. Like a sudden FLASH of Lightning!

“Why don’t we simply talk to each other!”

After all Sir we work for the same esteemed Jefferson Company. And we all are in the Company to meet our needs by meeting the Company’s needs. We know each other well. Then why do we not talk to each other.

We can talk about what we feel about our work, about our policies, about our leadership, about what we think and feel about each other, about our differences, about our strengths, about other departments, about EVERYTHING! And all this talking can help us work effectively, with greater motivation and team work.

What I have noticed Sir, is that we never seem to have conversations that matter. We waste so much time and energy in maintaining appearances? In generating reports and doing trainings that do not bring any meaningful long-term change? And most importantly Sir I feel we have complicated everything, simply because we wish to appear knowledgeable and learned.

Most conversations are about what does not matter. Most conversations never touch the core of the issue. Come to think of it the most important and honest conversations happen over a cigarette or a cutting chai (or even in the bathroom), in unguarded moments, not in the conference or the board room.

I am now wondering how to get these bathroom conversations into the board room?

I feel when we can talk freely among ourselves then we will not need reports, tests and trainings to complicate matters.

I am not sure though if people will talk so easily. Will they trust each other? Or will we start fighting like little children? Or will it be, like some people say “Opening a Pandora’s Box”. (I wonder who Mr. Pandora is and why do people keep opening his box, without his permission?)

I do not know for sure Sir. But what I am certain of Sir, is that these reports and trainings are eating our Company’s valuable time and energy and not delivering anything worthwhile.

What we need Sir perhaps is someone like the wise old man in our village. Whenever people had a problem in our village, they would go to him. He would get both parties to talk to each other, sometimes more than two parties. Everyone got a chance to share what they wanted, everyone got a chance to hear what the others had to say and invariably when people were honest with each other, they found their own solutions. There was no need for any politics and manipulation.

What we need Sir, perhaps is not consultant and trainers, but a wise old man (like the one in my village) who can encourage people to talk and share and find their own solutions. Simply, without all this complexity. They even have a term for this Sir. I checked with Mr. Sharma and also saw it in the dictionary.

It is called facilitate.

We need someone who can facilitate meaningful conversations among us. Like that old man, never taking any sides, of the richer or the poorer, of the powerful or the weak. That is why we trusted him. He simply let people talk to each other. And he shared his views whenever needed. And let me tell you Sir, the views of the old man were very valuable indeed. For he could see what neither of us could see. Since we were so close to the situation. He saw from the outside and having learnt from life’s experience, he also saw from inside of us. And what he had to offer was truly valuable.

I do not know Sir, where we can find such a old man, for old men are not produced in MBA colleges. Neither are all old men wise.

What I do know, is that we need someone (young or old) who can facilitate honest conversations among us. Someone who we can trust, like the old man in our village. And who can work with our company for a long enough time. I feel just as every family has a family doctor, every company must have such a old man.

I believe Sir, if we really search we will surely find. There is a saying in Hindi Sir “If you try hard enough you can find God”

My apologies once again for eating your time with this long letter. But I do feel it is in the best interest of our esteemed Company to invest our valuable resources of time and money wisely, in these hard times. And as you know there is a saying in English:

 “A stitch in time, saves nine.”

Even though I am not quite sure of what it exactly means Sir, it just feels right to use it now. Finally I am left with a question that has been playing on my mind for these past few days. It keeps revolving in my head and I do not have any answer. I would like to share it with you Dear Respected HR Director Sir and I am hoping you will be able to offer me some wisdom from the vast ocean of your knowledge. Sir the question is:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

I await your response to the question and my letter with great anticipation.

Please forgive any mistakes of my good self, while writing this letter to your esteemed self.

I remain your faithful employee of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Dattaram Waghmare

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Flow Consulting in collaboration with Bombay Connect

Presents 

    FLOW Organization Management Coaching 

 August 20th to 31st , 2012 Mumbai

FLOW Organization Management Coaching is a coaching clinic for the leadership of an organization. It invites organizational leaders, owners, founders, entrepreneurs along with their key team members for addressing current organizational challenges and to move the organization to the next level of strategic growth. Leaders are also welcome to participate as individuals, if they wish.      

Objectives

* Identifying the key organizational challenges and relating them to leadership, culture and organization structure.

* Generating insights on leadership, teamwork, decision-making, culture, ownership, role-clarity, empowerment, policy implementation, accountability and effective performance management

* Devising a course of action to move the organization to the next stage of growth

Logistics

Dates: 20th to 31st  August 2012

Coaching Session Timings:  Morning   – 10.00 am to 1.00 pm

Afternoon –  3.00 pm to 6.00 pm

 Time: Book session date and time by prior appointment.

Venue: Bombay Connect, 4th Floor, Candelar Bldg, 26 St. John Baptist Road, Near Mount Mary Steps, Bandra (W), Mumbai

Cost: Rs. 1,500/- per session

Registration: Write to bombay.connect@unltdindia.org or Call 022 32220475 / 9004256464

Next Step

In order to take the organizational coaching to the next level there is an option of continuing the coaching for the next three months, by choosing specific organizational project to work upon for tangible results. Some examples could be:

* Hand holding a start-up from initiation to product / service validation stage

* Moving from being a founder driven to professionally managed organization

* Creating alignment and trust among senior leaders for meeting organizational goals

* Re-structuring the organisation, with a focus on role-clarity and accountability.

Testimonials

 “MOS came across FLOW by chance and until then, we had not even thought about engaging a professional to help achieve certain goals. MOS is run single handedly with a core team that came together from different walks of life and groomed to work in a certain way. With the rapid progress that we experienced, newer talent was hired and it became evidently important to transition from a ‘one man show’ to a ‘professionally run’ set-up. Flow was consulted with solely this challenge in mind – to make the core team and the new professional blood work cohesively and each independently bringing their strengths to the fore and using their own emotions and thought processes rather than blindly clutching for support.

Flow infused freshness and empowerment in the organization that is visible even months later. The changes have trickled in a ‘top-down’ manner and what Flow has accomplished is a start of much needed efforts to enrich interpersonal rapport, understand accountability and decrease stress levels. Further, Flow has also conducted individual leadership coaching for a few key profiles. The health of an organization is completely dependent on the people and with Flow’s help, we now have awakened minds. A Flow ‘health-check’ is recommended to jump start organizations to move forward in the right direction.”

Mehul Desai, Founder and Chairman, Mail Order Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd.

A major concern, recently, was the general feeling that many of those who had joined the staff in recent years were not in tune with the philosophy of the founders and the commitment and team spirit that had existed earlier was diminished as a result. A fortuitous meeting with FLOW through the Bombay Connect lead us to believe we had found the kind of facilitators we could trust implicitly to achieve our goals. While our project is still a work in progress, Flow has already helped us to reassess roles within the top administration, to establish clear lines of open communication and delineate individual roles. Individual and group meetings with staff members across all centres and discipline have given a clearer idea of areas of staff interaction and roles definition in the secondary layer of administration that need to be addressed.

Most importantly, the group sessions encouraged staff to voice their concerns and set the stage for more healthy discussions to sort out individual differences that now take place regularly, as individuals look within to re-evaluate their personal aspirations and understand better our organizational goals. We already see this new atmosphere of openness leading to better participation by staff members in group activities and organizational tasks even at this early stage, and look forward to continuing to work with Flow in the areas of strategic planning and organizational development to fulfill, re-energize and restructure our organization to meet the ever-changing aspirations of our stakeholders.”

Kate Currawalla, President, Maharashtra Dyslexia Association

Being a start-up we were looking for a platform where we could help each employee to identify themselves with the brand and have a sense of belonging to the brand, also since we had a mix set of people who have been part of Bennett for a long time and the once who have been hired in the recent past, the people in the team came from diverse culture and values. Our objective was to bring about cohesiveness in the team so they understand each others values, work style, and together work as a team with common objectives and values. We wanted our employees to understand who we are? Where are we heading?

FLOW first met up the Leadership of the Organisation individually and designed the workshop accordingly. It was decided that there would be a two day workshop, first for the Leadership of the Organization and we would then phase this out and have another workshop for all the employees of the Organisation. The workshop designed by Flow was exactly like the name of their Organisation. It just flowed effortlessly where people started talking without any inhibitions and various questions came up which were answered within the team by the various process owners. The second day got further intense and we were gradually getting where we wanted to be. The Team Leads started connecting to the Brand Prime Connect as the brand they come from and they belong to rather than their past associations and slowly the discussions started transforming from me , I and then to we and us and what the employee’s together want for Prime Connect and where we together want to see Prime Connect. The two days’ workshop brought about cohesiveness among the leaders and we are looking forward to extending the workshop into the second phase where each and every employee of the Organisation identifies with the Brand and works with same set of values and beliefs and Corporate Ethos.”

Mohua Banerjee, Head – Human Resources, Media Network & Distribution

“Flow Consulting gives an amazing insight into organisational development and direction. Allowing people to get a macro view of where they want to go, while addressing the micro challenges in getting there!”

Lee Bolding– Founder and Partnerships Manager, Atma

“The concept of an organization development in comparison to an individual’s growth was very enlightening. It was very interesting to understand an organization’s sustainability through the Organization Life Cycle”

Veena Shetty, Manager Training, Bayer India

Facilitator

Ajay Kalra, is a certified Organization Development  practitioner and business coach. He is passionate about enabling organisations to reach their full potential through a pragmatic balance of strategy, task and people development. Being a Chartered Accountant he brings a process oriented and structured approach to each assignment.

Having over a decade of corporate experience, he has worked both in the domain of finance and human resources at organizations like Price Waterhouse Coopers, Schindler and Edelweiss. His last corporate assignment was as COO – Human Resources at Edelweiss Capital. He is a certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) trainer with an expertise in using personality type theory for leadership, coaching, conflict resolution, team building, career enhancement. He has undergone sensitivity training and Organizational Development Certification Program (ODCP) conducted by the Indian Society for Applied Behaviour Sciences (ISABS). In his work as an OD practitioner he uses a variety of methodologies ranging from organizational life cycle, systemic change, process work and gestalt amongst others.

He is a visiting faculty in management schools on the subjects of change management and learning organisations. He is interested in dream interpretation and creative writing, and conducts open programs on the same when time permits. A published writer with a love for poetry, he believes change is a convergence of many forces.

www.flowconsulting.in

www.creatingflow.wordpress.com

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He held it, just like a pregnant woman bears her unborn child. He was pregnant with fear. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of. Just certain about what he felt.

It was fear.

It was a familiar feeling. A certain hollowness and emptiness with an immobilising effect all over. Earlier it was overpowering, now it could be held and felt for what it was. Nevertheless, the desire to stop all other activity and give it the due attention it deserved was imminent. Like respecting an important guest visiting home.

He could feel it in his abdomen. As though someone had stabbed him with an invisible ice-knife that had dissolved into him and left the cold clammy feeling inside. Now that the deed was done, all he could do was one of two things.

Escape it or experience it.

As a child he had escaped it often. In a variety of ways. Eating, sleeping, doing something that would give temporary relief. Replace the cold feeling with a pleasurable warm sensation. Or numb the feeling by taking his attention elsewhere. A future hope. A manufactured story. At times he dimmed his awareness. Just as someone reduces the wick of a burning lamp, so that the light it disseminates is reduced. Other times he sought protection by getting someone to buy his story. Seek sympathy for his poor miserable self. He had adopted various strategies at different times, just to avoid feeling that cold claw that gripped his stomach, leaving him feeling inadequate, lonely and unworthy.

Over time he had begun to gradually look at it with curiosity. Examine what it was. What it did to him. What it felt like. Perhaps he got tired of escaping it. Perhaps he had dimmed himself for far too long. Perhaps he realized replacing a rotten sensation with a seductive one was not the solution. Perhaps it was time for him to experience it. Perhaps inspite of and because of all theses perhaps, this was how it was meant to be.

As he befriended his fear, he realized there were fears of all kinds. Like Ravana’s ten heads, the demon of Ramayana, in the Hindu mythological epic.

Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of being an outsider. Fear of loneliness. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing. Fear of being unloved. Fear of being disliked. Fear of inadequacy.

All kinds of fears. And just like Ravana’s heads, every time a fear-head was cut, a new head would reappear. They reappeared again and again. Each accompanied with their peculiar fearsome sensations. Some parched the throat. Others numbed the mind. But invariably all hit the abdomen with that cold clammy empty hollow feeling. All he could do was accept what came his way. The emptiness. The coldness. The hollowness. Stop running away from feelings that he did not like. Perhaps the only way to kill this multi-headed monster called fear, was to go deep into what he felt, where he felt it. In his abdomen. Just like the way to  kill Ravana, was through shooting an arrow that would pierce his navel situated in the middle of his belly.

As he felt each feeling, they began to reveal themselves to him. Unravel their mysteries. Returning parts of him that fear had claimed long ago. Parts that he had alienated. Parts now seeking reconciliation. Slowly but surely, the parts of the jigsaw puzzle called Himself started finding their rightful place within him. Each fragment adding to complete the picture. A movement towards integration.

Would he ever be free of fear? Would all the parts ever be returned to him? Would he ever complete himself? Would the jigsaw puzzle of his own existence ever be solved?

He had no answer.

For now he had taken a vital step in his relationship with fear. He had stopped fearing fear. Stopped being ashamed of it. Not that there was anything to be proud either. Fear was what it was. Another sensation that the body produced. Yet it was something else. It was the messenger that announced the arrival of his own self. Orphaned parts of him returning home. Like prodigal children.

As he held his fear now, he felt it move inside him. Like an unborn child kicking in the womb. He was pregnant. With Himself. A disowned part of him was about to be reborn. Reclaimed. There was nothing to fear.

Not even the fear of fear.

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